By Justin Kempf
A review of House of the People: Parliament and the Making of Indian Democracy by Ronojoy Sen
House of the People
For the past several years most of the popular literature on Indian democracy has focused on its shortcomings. So many books and articles fixate on Narendra Modi, Hindu Nationalism, and threats to Indian democracy that nonspecialists have reduced it to just another example of democratic decline. However, those accounts rarely explain India’s complex political system. They leave out a lot of details so they can explain the big picture to a broad audience. They rarely explain how Indian democracy works beyond the most rudimentary level.
A new book from Ronojoy Sen, House of the People, reverses this trend. It provides an in-depth examination of a single democratic institution: Parliament. He begins with the development and evolution of parliamentary traditions before independence and extends his analysis through the present. However, Sen offers something other than a narrative history. Instead, he offers an exhaustive view of parliament that includes demographics as well as themes that illustrate its ongoing evolution. Sen departs from a chronological narrative as he drifts between eras to explore concepts such as its committee system or broad topics like political corruption. At times sections might be difficult for nonspecialists to follow because the names and events can become overwhelming. But it’s never so much so that Sen loses the reader entirely.
The conclusion will resonate with nonspecialists more than any other chapter. He connects the decline in the importance of parliament to a decline in Indian democracy itself. In this way, Ronojoy Sen has written yet another critique of Indian democracy. However, he does it in a far more novel way that uses its parliament as a window into the state of its democracy. Moreover, his analysis extends beyond India to raise questions about Western democracies whose legislatures have also fallen into decline.
About the Author
Justin Kempf manages this blog and hosts the podcast Democracy Paradox. He lives with his family in Carmel, Indiana.
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